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Working from home: How to prepare your company for the Coronavirus pandemic.

Working From Home: What Companies Have to Look Out For

Of course, we at Boxcryptor also observe the current developments on coronavirus. Almost all of us are based in Augsburg, but since we operate internationally and are in contact with companies from almost every country, we experience every day how people's work routine change.

During the video calls that our colleague makes with people in Hong Kong, she has not seen pretty offices in the background since the beginning of the year, but normal apartments. It is the same with the Spanish businesses with whom we are in contact. And here in Augsburg, too, there are more people who work from home.

Therefore, we want to take a closer look at the topic of working from home and outlined some tips for companies that – due to the corona virus – send employees home with their computers for the first time.

We ourselves have already gained several years of experience with remote offices, as we have been allowing employees to work from home since the company was founded and have also established a “no-illness policy”. This policy states that you should not come to the office if you are contagious (or if there is a reason to believe so) but still feel fit enough to work. This is how we prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses in the Boxcryptor team. So far, we have had such good experiences with this that CEO Andrea Pfundmeier regularly recommends the “no-illness policy” to other companies:

 New team members learn about our “no-illness policy” on the very first day during our onboarding. You can also find it in writing on our intranet. But sometimes you have to be radical. If I notice that a team member is clearly stricken but still sits in the office, I send him or her home in case of doubt.

In addition to the “no-illness policy”, we have a clear work from home rule: each team member has a fixed quota of days per year on which he or she can work at home spontaneously and without giving reasons. For this reason, we at Boxcryptor are technically well equipped so that we can continue working from home at any time.

Technical Requirements for Working at Home Safely

At first it seems simple: Put the computer in your bag, take it home, connect it and continue working. In fact, there are a few things to keep in mind if some or all of your employees suddenly find themselves working somewhere else. In fact, businesses need to find a balance for employees to have easy access to company data but at the same time, ensure IT security within the company.

We have compiled the most important points:

  • It is advisable to use a VPN, for the network traffic not to be observable. This offers a certain protection against attackers who have specialized in poorly secured home networks.
  • Only company computers should be used. Private computers are too insecure for remote office work.
  • Hard disk encryption must be activated. This protects against the loss of data in the event of theft and releases the user from reporting the theft to the data protection authority.
  • Screen savers that lock the screen during inactivity should be set to start automatically after a few minutes of inactivity.
  • Private matters such as writing e-mails, playing games, or surfing social networks should not be performed on company computers. This separation must also be maintained if you are working from home.
  • Company computers are only permitted for use by employees. Children or other persons living in the same household may not use the device.

How to Avoid Common Data Protection Risks if you Work From Home

  • Help your employees secure their private WIFI by sharing tips. A long password is a good start.
  • Company data should never end up on private devices. Typical situations include using private USB sticks or other external storage devices to transfer data. Make your employees aware of the possibilities of encrypted data transfer using cloud storage.
  • Raise awareness of phishing once again among all company employees. Experts believe that new phishing e-mails will soon appear, taking advantage of the general uncertainty and enticing people to make thoughtless clicks and downloads. Here we have compiled some information on the subject of phishing for you.
  • Equally important is social engineering. Unauthorized people could try to gain access to sensitive information via e-mail or chat by impersonating a colleague online. Clear hierarchies and responsibilities as well as an open corporate culture, in which questions are evaluated positively, help against this type of attack.
  • Require all employees to switch to encrypted communication channels and also protect file transfers with encryption software such as Boxcryptor.

All employees working from home must be sensitized to lock the computers when they leave their workplace. The device should be put away every evening.

Business Continuity in Times of Corona

Corporate responsibility does not only extend to the protection of employees. It is also, of course, about ensuring the continued operation of the company. There are various approaches to this, which we ourselves have taken to heart and have asked other companies to do so.

Work from home: Companies should create the conditions for safe working from home. On the one hand, the safety tips that we have presented above must be observed. On the other hand, the corporate culture must also be adapted to this. Some companies have already introduced the rule that computers must be taken home every evening. This allows employees to react to the occurrence of infection on a daily basis and decide whether it makes sense to go to the office or not.

Avoid meetings: „Meetings are boring“ – How often do you hear that statement in the office? Now many companies have the chance to try out alternative models. Some meetings may not be as necessary as they seemed up to now. Others can be held virtually. Even when all employees are in the office, large meetings can be held via headphones and video telephony to reduce the risk of infection. Colleagues who work remotely or are in home office are automatically treated equally and do not have to fear any disadvantages.

Trying something new: From a large Internet company based in Ireland we have learned about a test run with employees working at home was carried out in spring. For a few days, all employees had to work from home. Not out of medical necessity, but to test whether the systems would stand the test and whether productivity would suffer. It does not, by the way. A company from Singapore divided the employees into two groups. Every week, one group is working from home, the other in the office. Then there is a change. This drastically reduces the number of contact persons.

What does it Feel Like to Work From Home?

Productivity relating to remote office was discussed and researched long and widely even before Corona. Some people say that the work-life balance suffers if work and private life are no longer separated spatially. Productivity does not seem to suffer. On the contrary. A highly regarded study by Standford University shows that productivity increases by 13.5% if you work from home.

The report from one of our contacts in Asia fits this picture. At the time of our talk he has been working in his home office for four weeks - and enjoyed it to the fullest:

I enjoy working from home. All distractions and unnecessary meetings, discussions and interruptions are eliminated. My productivity is maximum and I can do my work faster and better. I also have a lot more free time, because I don't fritter away or waste time.

Working from home can have negative effects if employees feel obliged to be available at all times. The work computer is maximum an arm's length away - why not quickly reply to a mail and finish writing a text. Possibly more people who are actually sick are working. This does not necessarily mean corona, but diseases with which you are no longer able to perform, such as colds, headaches or nausea. Management must set a good example to prevent employees from becoming burnt out.

Useful Tools for Team Collaboration

We ourselves have gained experience for some time of co-working with colleagues who are not in the office but at home, thanks to a generous policy on working from home. We have introduced several tools for this purpose in recent years:

  • The meeting app Zoom enables video calls in good quality and offers numerous additional features.
  • Slack and Trello are popular platforms for collaboration in digital teams.
  • Cloud storage allow decentralized access to files and thus create the basis for efficient team collaboration.
  • Boxcryptor ensures the necessary data protection in the cloud with end-to-end encryption.
  • Whisply is a service with which files can be transferred encrypted. Boxcryptor users can use Whisply via the context menu. All others can visit the Whisply website to transfer files encrypted end-to-end.
  • Wire is an encrypted chat that provides an app for teams and companies.

Even though the ongoing pandemic forces businesses to act fast, the process of switching from offices to working from home should not be underestimated. The importance of data security is often underrated and thus increases the risk of attacks. However, with the mentioned tools above, not only the risk of infection can be decreased when working from home but also the likelihood of a cyber-attack.

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